HC Deb 15 November 1982 vol 32 cc33-4
Mr. Speaker

This is the first of three applications of which I have received notice under Standing Order No. 9. I propose to call them in the order in which they were received by my office.

4.23 pm
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the covert and direct interference by a Government Minister in the wage negotiations of the water and sewerage industry despite the Prime Minister's assurance on 11 November 1982 that the Government are not a party to them".

The situation that has arisen in the water wage negotiations is of vital importance and of considerable urgency. I make a number of submissions in support of my application. A debate is needed desperately because the unions were made an offer last Thursday that the employers did not wish to make and which they knew was not negotiable. The offer had the support of none of them but followed gross interference by the Minister responsible. The interference was directed to a member of the employers' negotiating team and advisers. It took place on Thursday morning immediately before the negotiations began.

The interference followed an even more blatant intervention by Ministers at an earlier stage when the employers' side decided what offer to make as a basis for negotiation▀×an offer that Ministers vetoed and forced it to withdraw.

At Question Time last Thursday, the Prime Minister, replying to the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), said: I understand that negotiations with the water industry are taking place today. The Government are not a party to them."—[0fficial Report, 11 November 1982; Vol. 31, c. 666.]

In the circumstances that I have outlined, that answer amounts to grossly misleading hon. Members. A debate is necessary to consider the appalling consequences that will follow if the strike that the Government appear to be engineering takes place. It would be the first national strike involving both the water supply and sewage disposal systems. There should be an opportunity to consider the Government's reply and to move, if necessary, for the appointment of a Select Committee, with powers to send for persons and papers, to carry out an investigation. Nothing could be more serious. Nothing could be more urgent. That is why I make the application.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, the covert and direct interference by a Government Minister in the wage negotiations of the water and sewerage industry despite the Prime Minister's assurance on 11 November 1982 that the Government are not a party to them".

I have listened, as did the House, with great care to the right hon. Gentleman. As the House knows, I do not decide whether this matter shall be debated. That is a matter for someone else. I have merely to decide whether it should take precedence over business tonight or tomorrow. The House has instructed me under Standing Order No. 9 to take into account the several factors set out in the order but to give no reason for my decision. I must rule that the right hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.